‘What it’s like to be me’ is a series shining a light on people living and working in Southland. This week reporter PETRINA WRIGHT found out what it is like to be Jane, a survivor of domestic abuse.
The former Southlander escaped an abusive relationship seven years ago, moved out of the region and rebuilt her life.
However, the psychological and emotional fall-out from living in an abusive relationship for such a long time was taking her and her children longer to recover from.
MUTUAL friends introduced Jane to the man who would ultimately become her abusive husband.
She was 21.
“He was a nice man. He told me I had lovely eyes.”
However, it wasn’t long before his true nature began to show itself.
“There were warning signs right at the beginning, but I didn’t realise it [at the time],” she said.
It started with demeaning and derogatory comments.
“Little pokes and digs.
“The self doubt and continued put downs were the worst.”
Very early on in the relationship he became quite demanding, but growing up with a demanding father “normalised” his behaviour, she said.
He wanted to move in and put his name on her mortgage soon after they met, she said.
“That should have been a huge alarm bell, but it wasn’t.”
After they married, controlling behaviour came next.
He demanded their home was always clean and tidy.
“It had to look like a show home.”
He didn’t like her talking to other men, often accusing her of having affairs, maintained complete control over their finances and isolated her from her friends.
“He always had a reason why my friends were not allowed to visit. He made sure my friendships didn’t last.”
What started as verbal abuse and controlling behaviour, graduated to pushing her around, and escalated to raping and strangling her.
He was also abusive to their three children, she said.
So why did she stay in an abusive relationship for so long?
“I felt it was easier to stay with him because I knew where he was and what he was doing.”
It was her children who were the first to say enough was enough.
When they told her they were leaving, aged 7, 11 and 14, she decided it was time to leave too.
They left with only their pets and the clothes on their backs, she said.
Unfortunately, escaping the family home was not the end of the ordeal for Jane.
Domestic abuse was replaced with stalking and intimidation.
The only time she questioned her decision to leave her husband was during the four years he stalked her, she said.
He would spy on her at work, urinate on her car tyre, regularly drain her car battery and constantly drive past her home.
Often she would come home to find a window or door open when she knew she had closed it before leaving home in the morning, she said.
For a long time the police would not believe her, she said, which had made her feel “hopeless” and “terrified”.
“I cried a lot when my [ex-husband] was stalking me and the police weren’t doing anything to stop him.”
Her father installed security cameras and electric fencing around her property and she kept a record of every incident.
It took several years, but eventually the court issued Jane with a full protection order against her ex-husband and the stalking ceased.
HER parents, who put their lives on hold for her and her children, her workmates and Women’s Refuge were her biggest supporters during those dark times, she said.
Through Women’s Refuge she completed several courses which had helped her understand the circle of violence and improve her self-esteem, she said.
“It helped me realise it wasn’t my fault and that I was worth something.”
Jane and her children’s lives were now free of abuse, but the impact of living through the ordeal had had a profound effect on them.
Jane said one of her daughter’s actively sought men out, looking for a father figure or approval, while another refused to have anything to do with men.
The youngest child was still struggling to come to terms with what had happened, she said.
“He really messed with her.”
For Jane, the abuse had made her fearful.
“I was terrified all the time.”
She was scared to go outside at night and would keep her curtains closed all the time, she said.
It took some three years after the stalking stopped before the fear began to subside.
JANE is living proof anyone can successfully escape domestic violence and go on to live full, productive and happy lives.
She has regained her self-confidence, rebuilt her life and found a new partner who treats her with kindness and respect.
“I can do anything I want with my money and I don’t have to justify it.
“That’s the most amazing thing ever.
“I don’t have to feel guilty about anything.”
Her advice to other women in abusive relationships is clear – “get out”.
“It’s the hardest thing you are going to do, but it is the most rewarding.
“At the end of it, eventually you do get your life back.
“Believe in yourself. Believe you are a good person and you will be fine.”
Jane hoped by sharing her story it would help someone else.
“Maybe save a life.”
Invercargill Women’s Refuge: 03 218 9790
Shine Helpline for Family Violence: 0508 744 633
Family Violence It’s Not OK: 0800 456 450
Youthline: (Free text 234) 0800 376 633
Kids Helpline: 0800 543 754 (0800 KIDSLINE)